Alto (pitch)

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Voices for choir singers
Female voices Male voices
Range of a choral soprano
Soprano (S)
Range of a choir tenor
Tenor (T)
Range of a choral mezzo-soprano
Range of a choir baritone
Range of a choir alto
Alt (A)
Range of a choir bass
Bass (B)

The alto (like Italian alto and Latin vox alta , "high voice", from altus , "high"), plural the old , in Switzerland also the old , refers to the lower voice of the female or female voice in music as a vocal genre or vocal range Boys' voices ("Knabenalt") or the very high-pitched male voice. The vocal range is about g – e (also f – f ”). In English, French and Italian, Contralto describes this vocal range, whereas in German, particularly deep female voices are also known as Contra-Alt . In analogy to the Alto pitch, musical instruments have the Alto pitch.

The name comes from the Latin altus , which originally named the high voice above the melody-leading tenor or from the four-part male choir (in the chest and falsetto register), in which the second part is named contratenor  altus . This has a vocal range of approximately e – e ”.

A singer in this vocal range is called "alto" or simply "alto". Corresponding male voices are called "alto", "altus" or " countertenor ". A number of important contralto players are featured on the list of famous classical music singers . Alt parts in important roles are relatively rare. Well-known alto games are:

The alto voice range can be performed by both boys and women as well as male voices - each with a different sound. Alto parts of early music are also sung by counter tenors. Particularly in performances that value historical performance practice and historical sound experience, one tries to cast the voices according to the state of research and the customs of the composer's time.

Approximate pitches of the different voices

Transition to mezzo-soprano and contra-alto

Since singers with pure alto voices are rare, alto roles are also sung by singers with a deep mezzo-soprano. Likewise, female singers with high alto can take on mezzo-soprano roles, as the alto parts themselves are rare. Since the transition between the two voices is fluid anyway, many singers have both alto and mezzo-soprano parts in their repertoire.

There are also very deep female voices that are roughly in the range of a tenor or even a baritone, these are known as contra-alto . There are parts for such voices, e.g. B. the maid in Italian buffo operas, which are often occupied by tenors in order to achieve an alienation and to underline the comic character.


The pitch of the voice that corresponds to the old, but is sung by a boy before the voice breaks , is referred to as boyhood . Some men are still able to sing alto after their voices break. This is mostly done using the head voice or the falsetto technique, which, however, produces a different sound than a boy's voice. For a long time boys' voices from good singers were obtained through castration . This method is no longer practiced today for ethical reasons. A higher boy's voice is also called a boy soprano . Boys 'voices traditionally sing the high voices in boys' choirs .

Typical roles for boyhood are e.g. B .:

Web links

Commons : Contraltos  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Alt  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Friedrich Kluge , Alfred Götze : Etymological dictionary of the German language . 20th edition. Edited by Walther Mitzka . De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1967; Reprint (“21st unchanged edition”) ibid 1975, ISBN 3-11-005709-3 , p. 16.
  2. Wieland Ziegenrücker: General music theory with questions and tasks for self-control. German Publishing House for Music, Leipzig 1977; Paperback edition: Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag, and Musikverlag B. Schott's Sons, Mainz 1979, ISBN 3-442-33003-3 , p. 180.